Friday 13 November 2015

Miniseries REVIEW: Kamen Rider 4

Kamen Rider 4

Let’s be honest – there are a lot of problems with Super Hero Taisen GP: Kamen Rider 3. But perhaps one the strangest ones is the fact that the film ends on a huge unresolved plot point – namely the death of Gou Shijima/Kamen Rider Mach. After a pretty explosive death scene that’s overlooked by most of the characters fighting in the battle against Shocker, the story then concludes with Shinnosuke and Kiriko mournfully getting on with their lives without him. This wasn’t just lazy writing though, as these events then tie into Kamen Rider 4 – an internet mini series released in accompaniment.

The cast of Kamen Rider 4
Crossover casting: Less is more

The surviving members of Shocker have regained control of the Time Manipulation machine, trapping the world in a time loop which makes the evil organisation stronger every time it resets. Regaining his memories through an increasing sense of déjà vu, Shinnosuke Tomari (Kamen Rider Drive) soon deduces that time is reset when Gou falls in battle. However after many attempted resets he soon realises that it isn’t just Gou triggering this, but whether he or any of his friends die.

Teaming up with Kamen Riders Faiz and Zeronos, the four Riders along with Kiriko try time after time to break Shocker’s time loops. However standing in their way is Shocker’s latest cyborg – Kamen Rider 4, and his Sky Cyclone. With Shocker getting stronger and stronger, the team must decide whether to keep on fighting a battle they can’t seem to win or let time run its course by sacrificing one of their own.

Gou dies...again
Oh my god, they killed Gou!

So yes – Kamen Rider 4 is essentially Kamen Rider meets Groundhog Day, and this is by no means a bad thing. While the story itself is simply a great progression from the time-altering antics of Super Hero Taisen GP, the fact that everything is done in a more low-key way is the key to the miniseries’ success. Rather than cram cameos in with no rhyme or reason, this story features a smaller cast where each character plays a distinct purpose. The Drive crew are there for the obvious reason of being the current show at the time, Zeronos fills the role of having a time-travelling Rider in the mix (and it’s a really refreshing change of pace from having the Imagin as Den-O back again) and Faiz is the glue that holds the story together. Even Shocker come off better from being far more scaled down – the remnants from GP feel far more threatening than the franchise-spawning iterations that appear in the film. A smaller cast and more focussed direction is why Super Hero Taisen Z is usually cited as one of the better Taisen movies, and that was clearly run with here to create something that could have easily worked as a film in its own right.

Fair & Zeronos
Returning Riders

Zeronos and the Drive cast continue to be just as fun as they were in GP, but arguably the special really belongs to Kamen Rider Faiz – offering a concrete conclusion to Kamen Rider 555’s rather ambiguous ending all those years ago. Not having seen 555 yet I can’t fully comment on whether it does the show justice or not, but what I can say for sure is that its close links certainly don’t make this special particularly difficult to follow for anyone in the same position. It also makes 555 as a whole sound rather appealing, despite general fan consensus being rather mixed on the subject. Kento Handa’s return as Takumi Inui was previously one of the stronger elements of Heisei Rider vs. Showa Rider: Kamen Rider Taisen (even if the film offered an alternate retelling of Faiz’s story), but this is where both the actor and character really shine as one of the best thought out cameos in recent Rider history.

However you can’t forget Kamen Rider 4 himself, who is a rare example of Toei managing to pull of “all flash and no substance” without a hitch. Rider 4 has no human identity and no back story to speak of – he’s a loyal soldier of Shocker, evil to the core and that’s all you need to know. The beautifully done fighter pilot motif sets him apart nicely from the other Riders created by Shocker, but presented in the same modern style aesthetic as Rider 3 for them to feel like a natural evolution of the Showa Riders. The fight sequences are all the character needed to leave his mark, initially batting off Drive’s more fanciful attacks as if they were nothing with a simple (but wonderfully classic) Rider punch or kick. With villain characters completely beyond redemption becoming less and less frequent in modern media, it would be a real shame for this truly villainous Rider to never show up in the franchise again.

The Sky Cyclone
Best Rider Machine ever. No contest.

Almost completely defying expectations, Kamen Rider 4 is a fantastic little miniseries that is quite easily one of the best crossovers the franchise has produced in years. By using a much smaller cast the story is far more focused and each character is able to play a distinct role in it without things getting bloated by the shoehorned cameos and cliché plots the Taisen films have been pulling for so long now. The fact Kamen Rider 4 is able to leave such a big impression despite having such a wafer thin back story is also rather commendable. Fans of the Drive crew, Zeronos and Faiz should all find themselves suitably satisfied with this, while other fans will be able to take solace in the fact that they’re actually watching a coherent special for once. It’s just a shame that we had to get yet another terrible movie for this to happen – and as a web series no less.

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